Part Two: A Dire Blue
"We should get more sheep." Balèriu Cafiero lay on his back in a drier patch of grass in a field tamed by the small herd of goats he would be watching...if only the clouds weren't so fluffy. "Maybe trade out the noisy runts."
The sky was of the purest cerulean, a color they only saw after a stormy day. And they'd had not one day but a week of them, weather dire enough to break ships on unseen crags. Two days later, much of the ground still seeped water. The wind, on the other hand, had grown lazy, pushing the white puffs overhead slow enough that Balèriu could take his time studying the imagined shapes.
Yes, a nice, calm, wooly herd of sheep would be nice. Not like his unruly mass of kicking, messy, noisy brutes who ate every pair of shoelaces he owned. Instead of milk and meat and leather they could work more wool. And make more shoelaces. He grimaced at the untied leather flaps of his mud-framed boots.
Balèriu sighed. Sheep, right. He could hear his father returning from a trade route now, "Wasting the day staring at the ceiling of the world! We have work to do, Balè!"
Work? For what? They had plenty of food, from the sea, from the land, they had roofs over their heads and clothes on their backs--minus his shoelaces. Their present station was beholden to a self-proclaimed royal family...the only other family who happened to live on these islands.
His family wanted for nothing, all the basics covered. Yet having everything was...well...boring. The same fields, the same goats, the same dishes of seasoned fish, day in, day out. Balèriu wasn't even sure what waited in the wider world--but he wanted it. Wanted to discover more than--A high pitched braying yanked him from his bitter ponderings.
He came up off the grass, grabbing his staff and moving into a jog in one flowing motion. The braying turned into a horrible, high-pitched shriek.
"Not good..." Balèriu ran faster.
There was one rule: during the rainy season, don't let the livestock near the water. He'd left them playing games of tag and leapfrog while he daydreamed, and sure enough, they'd wandered too near the harbor.
No more frolicking now; the goats he passed shifted from hoof to hoof, as if uncertain how to proceed. Approaching a pair of female goats and a handful of kids they sheltered, Balèriu swung his staff in an arc. It came down in a flash of silver and a riot of jingling, smacking the ground between the water and the field. The bells looped over its head quivered more as he yanked it upward. No sooner had he turned the pair and their young back than he was sprinting toward the next goat. It continued like this far too slowly for his liking, propelling himself forward through the scattered goats, a smack of his bells, the loud accompanying jangle of demand, the whites of the herd's eyes reeling every which way until his staff broke their attention from the earsplitting keening coming from the shore.
As a mass of five jerked away toward the field, Balèriu saw one goat had broken ahead. It galloped toward the shore, over-stimulated jerks of its body and uncontrolled kicks of its feet making the path less a straight line and more a chaotic bumble at high speed.
"Sirvone! Stop! " he called, his muscles beginning to burn. After this he'd petition a switch on the livestock. Surely sheep wouldn't be in quite this much rush to die.
Balèriu chanced a look at the visible part of the harbor, to the left. Small fishing boats bobbed angrily in the current, smacking up against the moorings of the port. A few of his family members were staring in open mouthed horror at...something. He couldn't quite see over the far ridge yet. Judging by those faces, he didn't want to.
An eerie unrest set in as the continuous goat-scream cut off abruptly, would-be silence punctuated by thrashing waves.
The goat he was chasing went up and over the knoll.
Balèriu went up too...and immediately backpedaled. "Oh! Oh no!"
He slid his staff into the ground before him at an angle, and he skid down the muddy embankment.
Blue seared his eyes. Wiggled. It wasn't sky, wasn't ocean, didn't seem like it should be anything natural at all. As he came to a stop, his brain forced his eyes to comprehend the terror before him. Details came into focus. Multiple long, thick tendrils rose from the water. The blue...limbs?...snaked upwards and beachwards, enormous suckers decorating each one. One had wrapped around a goat--presumably the one who had stopped screaming, now hanging limp from being crushed in the creature's grip. The creature....Balèriu's mouth dropped open and a small squeak emerged.
A traigolzu. A traigolzu.
A monster of myth, rarer than rare, these days more impossible than not. The rule about keeping the animals--and people, he recalled belatedly-- offshore during the rainy season had its origins soaked in a bloody massacre by a traigolzu. In Balèriu's 20 years he'd never witnessed an attack, despite the warnings from both his father and grandfather. Perhaps the storms had woken it. Perhaps it had whetted its appetite with victims of the waves, and then been drawn to seek even more sustenance? Perhaps it had simply decided...it was time. Either way, he would have to face unhappy people for his part in encouraging the creature to stay. Consequences would be severe--A tentacle lashed outward and he stumbled back.
Blue slid around the middle of the foolish goat he'd tried to save. Even as Balèriu used his staff to help him retreat up the knoll, the poor animal was lifted into the air with no more apparent effort than plucking at a speck of dust. Shrieking rang in his ears and his eyes watered as the animal's hooves flailed at nothing.
His fingers had frozen around the staff, tingling as though they'd gone numb. The first goat inexorably lowered to the water, then disappeared beneath the choppy waves.
Balèriu turned and ran. He headed for the herd, corralling them wildly toward the safety of their enclosure. Then he ran for his family, joining them from the safety of their fortified position.
"Balè, there you are!" his father declared, hauling him close. "Are you alright? Are you hurt?"
He shook his head mutely, staring at the traigolzu from this new vantage point.
His father grabbed his chin and turned it away from the creature's feast. "Daydreaming again?" He was pale and his smile sat on his face too wide, as if moved into that position to cover the shock underneath.
"I'm sorry, Father," Balèriu croaked.
"It was a fine day." An unusual concession from a man who'd normally be raging. He waved toward the water. "Better the goat than you." A pause. "You don't have an urge to fall into that creature's arms, right?"
Balèriu shook his head and then turned with him to watch. The wall of blue seemed to shrink from them, edging just slightly off the shore.
"It's not drawing humans toward it," his sister said with a thin quake to her voice. "Must've just gotten a feast and thought it'd pick up dessert. It will leave once nothing more wanders into its path. ...Right?"
The Cafieros set about sheltering for the remainder of the day and the long evening ahead. By morning, the only blue to be seen was the expected: the sky above, the sea below.
Holding a quivering mug of hot tea, Balèriu walked in halting steps along the shore as he recalled how close he'd been to the creature from the depths. A glimmer caught his eye, and he crouched to examine the ground. Jewelry, he thought. The obsidian didn't shine, but the flat of the stone had caught the sun's rays. A...bracelet? No, it seemed longer than that.
"A necklace?" He pressed his mug into the sand, rotating it to ensure it stayed upright. Then he reached for the thing, tugging it from the sand, brushing it with his fingers. The whole of the chain had been forged in the stone as well. It probably cost a fortune. Might trade for one, too...certainly more than two goats' worth. "Not that I'm grateful," he murmured, his gaze drawn to the deceptively calm surface of the water.
Footsteps crunched on the sand behind him. "Son, we need to talk."
Balèriu put the necklace in his pocket, grabbed his mug, and stood, an apology on his lips.
"We should get some sheep."
He gaped at his father.
The man rubbed at his beard. "When the season's over and the seas have calmed, you'll go to Arborea and put in an order for a herd."
It would take months to sail, months to get there and make contacts and gather a herd, months to return. He fingered the necklace in his pocket. Yesterday's adventure had been a little more than he'd bargained for, but Arborea had definite possibilities. And with this to trade, perhaps he could finally find something more out there in S'ard.
"Are we selling the goats?"